Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It’s Iimi! What’s The Matter With Matter?

When Rick comes up with a badly flawed argument against God, Saul responds with an equally bad argument to score points. Iimi shows that the real response is to show what’s wrong with Rick’s “only matter is real” argument. Unfortunately, the idiot trio shows—to the girls’ discomfort—that the minds of teenage males do focus solely on the physical.

This comic was made in response to an annoying meme running around that (wrongly) thinks it refutes atheism, when in fact, real atheists mock it.













Friday, December 26, 2014

TFTD: They Revile What They Do Not Understand

But these people revile what they do not understand and are destroyed by what they know by nature like irrational animals. (Jude 1:10)

A couple of days before Christmas, I was involved in a combox discussion on the issues over the satanic counter to the Nativity Scene in Florida. My own thesis was that the putting up a “religious” display with the intent of protesting religious displays was a self-contradiction. What struck me was a comment from one of the atheists. It was a tu quoque claim that the Bible was full of contradictions. Today, there seems to be a lot of atheists on Facebook and in the comboxes bashing Christianity over Neil deGrasse Tyson and his tweet in celebration of the December 25th birthday of Sir Isaac Newton (the actual tweet struck me as being more pathetic than offensive, apparently trying to imply Newton was more important than Christ).

Basically, the theme is that Christians are stupid for believing in God while blaming Christianity and religion in general for every crime in the history of humanity (denying the role of the atheistic ideology in the worst atrocities of the 20th century). These things are pretty tiresome, and fairly frustrating. The bashing is basically illogical and factually wrong. They would actually be easy to refute—if people took the time to listen and investigate whether what they say is true.

Ven. Fulton J. Sheen expressed things very well when he wrote:

“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Radio Replies vol. 1)

Ven. Archbishop Sheen makes a good point. The Catholic Church is not really hated for what she teaches, but for what people think she teaches, and when people run afoul of the Church teachings, we are told that these teachings were made out of hatred of women, of people with same sex attraction, of divorced people, the poor, the rich, sexuality etc., simply because we have a teaching on the morality of certain actions.

People don’t even ask what we teach, let alone why we teach it. People assume that the worst possible portrayals of the Church in history are true, never realizing that even in past centuries there were people with ideologies and axes to grind who had no problems denigrating the Church to build up their own agendas. Because they know nothing of Catholic teaching and history, but assume the Church is capable of the worst, they assume that the horror stories they hear must be true and done out of sheer malice—never mind facts and the context of the times.

Sometimes I wish people couldn’t post on a subject online unless they could demonstrate they understood what they were bashing.

But we shouldn’t expect that. Our Lord did warn us that we could expect hatred from the world if we sought to be faithful to Him:

18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ (John 15:18-25)

So we endure hatred and try to reach out to the person of good will who wants to learn the truth, praying for all of them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts on (Lack of) Separation of Church and State in Modern America

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Introduction

One of the more bizarre behaviors of people who say they support a total separation of Church and State is that they seem either ignorant or indifferent to the fact that it is a perversion of both the Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers at the time.

Then, the concern was to prevent the state from encroaching on the churches the way it had been done in Europe and the early days of the 13 Colonies, where the government could pass laws to hinder religions (often Catholics) and compel people to support religions they did not believe were right. For example, Catholics could be fined for refusing to attend the Anglican Church, and in England it was a death sentence to be a Catholic Priest. In some of the colonies, priests were banned. At that time, religions favored by the colonies, like England, were supported by taxes, where refusal to pay would result in legal sanctions.

So, when looking at that context, it becomes clear as to why the Constitution defines religious freedom as one of the freedoms of expression in the First Amendment—one which lists areas the government is forbidden to interfere with. The churches were to be free to do what they believed they were morally obligated to do, with no coercion by tax or by government law.

But, by the fact that it is listed with the rest of the Freedoms (Speech, Press, assembly, petition over grievances), it shows that this amendment was never intended to be interpreted as restricting religion from having a role in the public life of the citizens. People who speak, write, assemble and petition the government have values based on their religious beliefs, and there is no reason for thinking they cannot do these things with a religious motive.

The Modern Government View is a Perversion

But the way government operates today, what we have is a perversion of the original intent. The government is imposing laws and taxes that demand that schools and hospitals affiliated with a religious denomination fund things that they find offensive. The contraception mandate was a major red flag. Now the current attack is in defining same-sex relationships as “marriage” and, with increasing aggression, is insisting that these institutions affiliated with churches accept them as marriages as well—even though they run afoul of what the churches think they must do.

At the same time, the state increasingly legislates in matters long held to be issues of morality, and when the churches assert their rights to teach on these issues, they are accused of violating the “wall of Church and State.” Ultimately what this means is the churches will have a diminishing range of things it can talk about, while the state will have an increasing range of things it can legislate in regards to religion.

Just imagine if the government approached the rest of the First Amendment freedoms in this way. What if they said that while individuals had freedom of speech, groups did not? Think that’s ridiculous? Think again. In term of religion, the government is trying to argue that the business run by a person does not have “religious freedom” so, even though the owner thinks X is a sin, the state can decree that the business must support X.

Basically, the courts and the current administration is assuming that no laws based on religious values can be binding in law. The practical result of this is that the only values which laws can be based on are secular values. But that’s preferential treatment for a certain philosophy which is often hostile to religion. In insisting on laws being based de facto on making a law respecting an establishment of religion (or, the philosophy which denies a place to religion), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (by preventing individuals with religious beliefs from living all aspects of their life free of government diktat.

Now compare this to what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786 in the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

The man who coined the term “wall of separation” expected that the freedom of religion would prevent any person from having their civil capabilities impaired—which includes running a business.

The Catholic Concept of Religious Freedom

Now, compare the current mess America is in with what the Catholic Church said in the Vatican II Document Dignitatis humanae:

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

 

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

 

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

This is a very reasonable stance to take. It prevents coercion from individuals and groups, public or private with the intent of forcing a person to act in a manner contrary to their belief. That means the government can’t force individuals or groups to do what is contrary to their beliefs—and neither can mobs of public opinion (as they did with Brendan Eich—his religious freedom was violated and the government failed in protecting it).

The main difference between the Church view of religious freedom and the American distortion is that the Church recognizes that the freedom of religion comes with the responsibility to seek out and follow the truth (DH #3):

3. Further light is shed on the subject if one considers that the highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.

 

Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.

 

Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.

This is also crucial. We have to be free to speak the truth if people are going to be able to live in accordance with it. It recognizes that people have to accept the truth personally, and not have someone else discover it and then force you to do what you think is wrong.

But, when the government rules that God’s law may not be taught in places where anyone objects to hearing something they might disagree with, and that laws proposed by shared religious belief are labeled unconstitutional, we have a government which is claiming it knows the truth and is compelling people with religious beliefs to deny what they believe is true and give assent to the government decision.

Opposing a Lobotomized or Double Standard View on the “Separation of Church and State"

That’s why the modern version of the “wall of separation” is asinine. In claiming laws, which are formed from people with a shared religious understanding of right and wrong, are unconstitutional, they deny people the right to exercise their civil capacities to promote what is right, while at the same time, people with a non-religious or anti-religious view have no similar handicap. That’s a de facto intrusion by the government in saying they have the authority to determine what is right or wrong—and they have decided that religion is wrong.

 

So here’s something to consider. If a person believes in a strict separation of Church and State, why do they permit the State to violate that wall? Why is it OK for the state to say, “you must do this in spite of your religious teaching,” when no Founding Father ever intended the 1st Amendment to be understood this way? Surely a person who holds this with the intent of keeping the Church from having any influence on the State must recognize that it cuts both ways, and see that the State can have no influence on the Church either . . . which creates a lobotomized country.

But both the concept of the lobotomized country and the concept of the wall of separation going one way create a country unable to seek out the truth. All a government has to do to silence something it dislikes is to label it “religious.” Just keep in mind that many of those opposing slavery and segregation did so out of “religious motives.” If the government thought then like it does today, they could have negated laws outlawing both on the grounds they were “religious” and therefore a violation of the “establishment clause."

The only sane way for religious freedom to work is to recognize that all people (including politicians) have the obligation to seek out and follow the truth, and the churches do have the authority and obligation to speak out on what is right. A majority of voters can use their religious beliefs as a motivation in voting for laws—while being careful to respect the rights of religious minorities who disagree. At the same time, the state has the responsibility to promote the public good. As DH #7 puts it:

7. The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.

 

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

 

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.

An Example on How Freedom of Religion Can Work

Some try to offer up the challenge of, “But if what if people want to impose sharia law?” Given such an imposition would have no respect for the people who do not believe Islam is true or for Muslims who choose to leave their faith, such an imposition would be contrary to religious freedom and thus be part of the state’s responsibility to defend against abuses. 

But, even though we recognize that sharia is contrary to religious freedom, that doesn’t permit the government to crack down on Islamic practices that don’t violate the freedom of religion. For those Muslims who choose to follow their beliefs without coercion, they should be free to follow the beliefs that they believe to be right. Likewise Catholic or Jewish beliefs. If believers can convince enough people that their view on what should be a law is a good one, people can vote for it, ensuring that it doesn’t force others to do that which they think is evil.

Conclusion

When one looks at the Catholic beliefs—actual beliefs, not what people wrongly think they are—one can see that they are not forcing their views on others who are unwilling to follow them. When she teaches on the fact that the unborn fetus is a living person, and convinces people that this is truth, the laws that result are not forcing people to do what they think is evil. When the Church teaches that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman and convinces people that this is the truth, they are not violating people’s rights when laws are passed on the basis of this truth. (See Here and Here for an analysis on why the “civil rights” arguments are false).

But, when the state tries to force a business run by a Catholic or an institution affiliated with the Catholic Church to do something that goes against Catholic teaching, that is violating their religious rights not to something they think is evil.

The truth of the matter is this: What we have in America today is a perversion of the concept of freedom. So long as the government continues to think this way, it will continue to be violating our constitutional rights.

 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

TFTD: Funny How They Want it Both Ways...

In the article, "Apology for student who says teacher questioned his refusal to stand during pledge,” we see an interesting thing. An eleven year old atheist refuses to stand for the pledge of allegiance because of the phrase “Under God.” In addition, news stories report that a banner in the classroom which read, “Prayer Changes Things,” is going to be removed. It is acknowledged that he doesn’t have to stand because the pledge is a violation of his beliefs.

But isn’t it funny that when an atheist encounters something he or she does not want to do, everyone has to respect his or her rights, but when a Christian encounters something he or she finds offensive, there is no right to opt out (which is the religious oppression by the Obama administration in a nutshell).

Basically, this is a mindset that says atheism and non-Christian beliefs have the right to refuse having anything to do with Christian beliefs, but the reverse is not true. That’s the whole reason for the current kulturkampf in America. People can tell Christianity it has to change to accommodate non-Christians, but you can’t tell non-Christians that they have to accommodate the Christians. When the non-Christians demand equal time with Christians, that’s considered OK, but when the Christians demand equal time with the non-Christians, that’s a violation of the establishment clause.

I’m not particularly offended by the antics of an 11 year old atheist. He’s young and one prays he finds the truth later in life. But let’s cut the crap on saying it’s being neutral when the country says we have to accommodate a non-believer and when the country refuses to accommodate a believer. There is a difference between believers practicing their faith in public and giving into demands of non-believers to put up countering professions as a means of saying, “We reject this!” I don’t object when a non-Christian group wants to publicly commemorate their beliefs in public, and I won’t interfere or demand that a Christian display be set up right next to it. But treat us the same way.

Otherwise, what you have isn’t justice . . . it’s arbitrariness.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fallacious Thinking on Religious Indifferentism

I came across a claim on a gaming forum this morning. Basically the context is the poster was making a statement that there are no absolute values, and that all religious values are equally valid or invalid. This claim said there were no more or less value to the "myths" of traditional religion than there were to his/her own. Ordinarily, I would write it off as a fallacy not worth bothering with, but the truth is, many people do think this way.

The basic view of indifferentism that is expressed today is given in two views:

  1. So long as you're trying to do good, what you believe doesn't matter.
  2. There's no more proof for the belief in God than for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Both of these views start with the same fallacy: Begging the Question, which assumes to be proved true that which actually needs to be proven. So if a person wants to claim that Christianity is no more or no less valid than Pastafarianism or other belief, that's not something that is already proved. That's something that needs to be proven before they can move on to making their conclusion.

See, a person who thinks that all religions are manmade constructs or a person who thinks that all religions that make you feel good are good enough doesn't answer the question of how they know their belief. How does the person who thinks all religions are a construct of human beings know that none of them have any supernatural basis? They don't. They are making an assumption that no religion can have a supernatural basis.

Likewise, the person who thinks it doesn't matter what religion a person holds as long as the religion makes a person happy. If God exists, then if He establishes a way to follow Him, then it matters very much whether or not one follows that way.

Unfortunately many people make a decision on the universal validity or invalidity of religion based on their perception of what suits their worldview. The atheist presupposes that no religion can be true. The religiously indifferent presupposes that religion is nothing more than "being nice to each other." What is not asked is: What if my presupposition isn't true?

A few months ago I wrote on Pascal's Wager. I think it makes sense that people of good will consider the consequences of backing the wrong horse when it comes to seeking to follow the truth. If atheism is irrelevant if true and dangerous if false, then it makes a lot more sense to investigate the claims of religion to see if they are true then it does to investigate the claims of atheism.

The person of good will can't just stop in thinking "this is close enough." The search for truth is ongoing . . . eliminating false ideas, going deeper into true ones and trying to live by the truth. The person who holds to a worldview should consider why he or she holds that worldview . . . even the Christian. If God exists, and is not some indifferent architect, then what one does in relation to Him does matter.

That's why we can't presume that God does not exist or is indifferent and we can stop searching for the truth.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thoughts on the Pope's Second Interview

Thus far, the mainstream media seems to pay little attention (as of yet) to the Pope's second interview -- probably because there wasn't much to misrepresent. A few commentators on the Internet seem to have missed the point however, either implying or accusing that the Pope is guilty of outright relativism.

That's understandable though. A few statements in there initially gave me a WTF? kind of reaction, almost looking as if the Pope took a relativist view of truth, when he said:

" Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."

Rereading the interview, I don't think that is a correct interpretation.

What the Pope is talking about is that all individuals are obligated to seek out the truth. See, a lot of people take an argument from silence approach to conscience -- "I don't feel anything wrong so it must be OK."

But that isn't conscience. Conscience says "I must do X" or "I must not do Y." Conscience can be wrongly informed,  yes. But the erroneous conscience still commands the person who does not know better.

But too many people are willing to rationalize away their conscience out of fear, expedience, ambition or other reasons. But what if  Germans in Nazi Germany had heeded this when they were told to do evil?  What if the woman considering abortion listened to her conscience instead of her fear?

The Pope is speaking to an atheist, not to a practicing Catholic. The atheist does not have an understanding of the complete truth as Catholics do. He can't say, "listen to the Church," because they don't recognize the authority of the Church. But he can appeal to the conscience because that is at least a common point of reference.

But the thing is, conscience requires one to seek and follow the truth. The man or woman who does not seek out whether they err are doing wrong. The person who, through no fault of their own, does not realize the importance of Christianity won't be condemned for that. But he or she will be judged if they refuse to seek out what is true.

As Catholics we should understand this, and not bash the Pope for trying to help an atheist begin to see his obligations.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Underlying Assumptions

Occasionally I encounter materialist atheists who demand physical proof for the existence of God. Such demands are what is known as a categorical error. Science belongs to the category of the natural... that which can be observed and studied and tested. The category of the natural involves the entire physical universe.

The problem is, if something has existence in a way that goes beyond physical existence -- what we call supernatural -- then trying to apply the principles of the natural universe to studying the supernatural is using a tool which is entirely unsuited for the task. It would be like using a microscope to try to study the stars.

Atheists of this type make some underlying assumptions that they do not question. But the problem is, they make arguments using these assumptions but the underlying assumptions need to be proven before their questions can be considered justified.

Some of the assumptions are:

1) The supernatural does not exist
2) If God exists there must be physical evidence for that existence.
3) Belief in the supernatural comes from pre scientific superstition
4) Science has eliminated the need to believe in God

Others exist, but these are some of the basic ones.

The problem is, when the atheist demands physical proof of God's existence, they are effectively making a universal negative claim about reality. The onus of proof is on them for making that claim, but being a universal negative, it is impossible to prove.

This is where you get ridiculous statements like "the burden of proof is on the person making the more extraordinary claim," or "since you can't prove a negative, the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim."

It is always the person making an argument who has the burden of proof, so the atheist making these statements is guilty of shifting the burden of proof. He or she makes an assertion and then, instead of proving it, demands it be disproved. 

Such a tactic tends to be used on the Internet against believers who the atheist believes is not skilled in argument. When that particular believer lacks the skills to refute the challenge, the atheist then declares victory for "disproving" Christianity.

But he hasn't. Refuting a weak opponent doesn't automatically mean the case for Christianity is weak. It could just means the weak opponent does not know his faith well enough to understand a complex philosophical attack against it.

Conclusion

Once you can see the big picture, you can see this kind of attack is unquestioned assumptions that need to be proven combined with shoddy tactics used to confuse and intimidate the opponent and make observers think the atheist has proven a point he has not proven.

Unfortunately, the Internet being what it is, attention spans are short. Usually the best you can do is make your case -- politely -- in the hopes of reaching people of good will and encouraging them to consider what the truth is.

As an afterwards, I'd like to point out that not all atheists use these dishonest tactics. Nor is it limited to atheism. I've seen fundamentalist anti Catholics behave similarly, as well as radical traditionalists bash other Catholics.

The basic flaws in all cases are:

1) unquestioned assumptions used as a basis even though the opponents believe it to be false.
2) attempts to shift burden of proof
3) tries to make defeat of unskilled opponents into refutation of position.

The basic counters are:
1) don't let the false assumption go unquestioned.
2) don't let the opponent shift the burden of proof onto you when he made the assertion
3) study what you believe so as not to be an unskilled opponent.

Monday, September 2, 2013

TFTD: Did They Ever Consider There Might Be an Answer?

Reading through a bunch of comments on the internet, I came across several made by atheists which attempted to use mockery to show the "contradictions" of Christianity. What it boils down to is people not understanding the actual teaching, but they mock their misconception of what they think Christianity is.

That's not really a good way to show oneself as a champion of reason and logic.

In fact, if Christians have an answer for those questions -- especially if those answers show the mocking questions miss the point of our beliefs -- doesn't that mean the atheist mockers are the ones behaving irrationally?

But that seems to happen when these kinds of attackers simply equate faith in God with stupidity and don't seek to learn about Christianity from someone educated in the faith.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pathetic Little Straw Man

I find it interesting to see what people share on Facebook when it comes to hostility towards Christianity.  It's not just that their arguments against Christianity lack any semblance of reason and logic.  It's also the case that the Christianity they attack has very little to do with what Christianity teaches.  I don't know if it merely reflects their ignorance or whether it indicates a dishonest "quote mining" in order to make Christianity look bad, but either way, one does not refute Christianity through an uninformed misrepresentation of what it teaches.

The current piece of bad reasoning running around Facebook is a quote from a blogger named Amanda Marcotte which a Facebook group has been sharing:

Atheist are routinely asked how people will know not to rape and murder without religion telling them not to do it, especially a religion that backs up the orders with threats of hell. Believers, listen to me carefully when I say this: When you use this argument, you terrify atheists. We hear you saying that the only thing standing between you and Ted Bundy is a flimsy belief in a supernatural being made up by pre-literate people trying to figure out where the rain came from. This is not very reassuring if you’re trying to argue from a position of moral superiority.

What we see here is a straw man argument.  This is not what Christianity argues.  What Christian philosophers have said is that with no moral absolutes, anything is permissible (I've dealt with the illogic of the claim that there are no moral absolutes in an earlier article).  It then challenges the person who rejects the fact that values come from a source above us to explain how moral norms can be binding.

Morality can come from one of the following:

  1. Something above the human level (such as God and Natural Law)
  2. Something at the human level (such as society)
  3. Something below the human level (such as instinct)

The problem is, if morality does not come from something above us, it really cannot bind.  If morality comes from society, then it is people who follow what values society holds that are good and those who oppose societal values are bad.  This means that in a society which embraces segregation, Bull Connor was a moral person and Martin Luther King Jr. was an immoral person.  If we get our values from society, then to condemn the values of another society merely becomes a case of "pushing your values on others."

But the opposite is true.  We recognize that often it is the moral person who challenges the values of society, and that some societies behave in an immoral manner.  We could not condemn the values of the Third Reich or apartheid era South Africa unless moral values come from outside society.

Likewise that it comes from instinct does not work.  Sometimes morality tells us to do something which goes against the instinct, such as dying rather than to do what one thinks is wrong.  Instinct guides us towards satisfying physical needs, but sometimes we need to suppress instincts for a greater good, for example suppressing one's survival instinct by putting oneself at risk to save another.

So the point that Ms. Marcotte misrepresents is actually the demand to justify the source of morality if one denies the existence of God.  Since neither instinct nor society can explain binding moral values, if one wants to claim binding moral values and deny the existence of God such a person has to give an explanation for something above the human level which can demand we follow these moral values.

Informed Christians don't deny that atheists can have proper moral values.  The existence of an atheist who seeks to do what is right is no challenge to Christian belief.  What the Christian notes is the atheist is being foolish in insisting on those moral norms they personally follow while ignoring those they disagree with instead of investigating why these norms are binding to begin with.

The atheist who refuses to consider a source above humanity in considering moral obligations is being as reasonable as a person who refuses to consider matter as a factor in the study of physics.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

God, Invisible Pink Unicorns and Flying Spaghetti Monsters

I had a drive-by atheist come by the other day anonymously posting a comment on a post I wrote over a year ago.  There was nothing especially brilliant about what he said.  Essentially it boiled down to "Prove God exists," while making use of the Argument from Silence and the Shifting the Burden of Proof.

Such drive-by trolling indicates a certain type of thinking:

  1. It presumes anything which exists has a physical existence.
  2. If one can't prove a physical existence of a thing, it isn't true.

This is where we get the concepts of the "Invisible Pink Unicorn" and "The Flying Spaghetti Monster" invoked by some atheists as a mockery of the belief in God.  (It's essentially a rehashing of Bertrand Russell's Tea Cup).

There is a problem with such materialist beliefs.  Let's use the following exercise to demonstrate it:

  1. Think of your hair color.
  2. Are you aware of your hair color?
  3. Are you aware of being aware of your hair color?
  4. Prove that your thought in #3 exists.

This is the problem with materialistic atheism in a nutshell: In order to attack the belief in God, they have to make use of special pleading (exempting themselves from the standard they demand others follow).  Anything which is not material is denied to exist.  A counter example is used.  The response is to try to explain away the counter example as not mattering.

The end result of this is to recognize some important facts.  Science is entirely limited to the physical realm of things which are observable in some way.  That's good for what it can do.  However, it becomes useless in determining something beyond the scope of the physical realm.  If such a thing exists, the fact that science cannot detect it indicates a limitation of science, not a delusion in thinking it exists.

This doesn't mean "Science is useless."  Instead it means we use science for dealing with the material world and with material causes, and recognize that to try to use it in dealing with the supernatural is just as effective as using a microscope for astronomy.

Let's consider a historical example (For a more detailed view of this example, see my previous article here).  Prior to 1492 [Let's leave aside all the other claims of who "really" discovered America as a distraction], the belief of Columbus was one could sail West to get to China.  His critics claimed he underestimated the size of the Pacific Ocean and one couldn't carry enough food to reach China from Europe.

At this time, a European speculating that a land mass existed between Europe and Asia would not be able to prove it scientifically… but that doesn't change the fact that the Americas existed.  The hypothetical European who used materialistic views to demand proof that such a continent existed, could argue that there was no evidence and since there was no evidence, it was more reasonable to assume such a land mass did not exist.

The point is: Lack of physical knowledge of a thing does not mean there is no reason to believe it exists. 

I want to offer a caveat however.  I am not saying we are free to therefore believe anything.  Reason is still important, and we should not merely go and accept Tertullian's maxim of "I believe because it is absurd."  There are good reasons not to believe in the ancient Greek gods for example and those reasons do not deny the existence of one God.  Philosophical Knowledge, Logic and revelation from one who has knowledge are all valid forms of knowledge.

Philosophical knowledge and reasoning can tell us some things about a thing that does not have physical existence (such as Justice for example), and revelation can tell us of the existence of a thing we cannot verify: If Native Americans came to Europe in 1492, they would have been witnesses to the existence to something a member of Renaissance Europe could not verify on his own. 

So to conclude, it is unreasonable to demand physical proof as the only kind of proof until it can be proven that only things with a physical existence do exist.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reflections on the Fallacy of Bifurcation

There is an unfortunately common fallacy out there which is known as the fallacy of bifurcation.  Essentially, this fallacy demands a choice between two options (Either [A] or [B]) but fails to consider that more options than these can exist.  So long as any other option could exist, one can't accept this premise as valid.  So long as the premise lists fewer options than actually exist, it is a fallacy to claim choices are limited to the ones limited.

Contraries and Contradictaries

With Contradictory positions, if one is true, the other must necessarily be false.  With contrary positions, both can be false in the sense that there can be an option not considered.

Now of course, some premises are mutually exclusive: "Either some sort of divine [Exists] or [Does not exist]," for example is mutually exclusive, and thus the statement is concerning two contradictory positions.  If there is some sort of divine, the claim there is none is false.  "The unborn is either [a person] or is [not a person]," is another sort of mutually exclusive proposition.  If it is not a person, then what is it?

A Contrary position can have two statements which disagree, but other options exist, such as, "Either the [Muslim concept of Allah] is true or [there is no God]" (if God exists and is not what Muslims believe about Him, this is an alternate to atheism)

Violating the Law of Non-Contradiction

Thus an Either-Or argument can only be accurate if it involves contradictory statements which allows no other possibility.  A thing cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same way.  So if a thing is a triangle, it cannot be a circle, because a circle has no sides and no angles, while a triangle has both.  However, if I say "all shapes are either triangles or circles," I overlook the possibility of squares, rectangles, ovals, parallelograms, blobs and many other options.

Conclusion

Thus, when we see those sorts of challenges where a person says "Either [A] or [B]" we need to remember that it is only true if [A] and [B] are the only options.  If Option [C] is available, this "Either-or" ignores reality.  Therefore before accepting the choice, one has to ask whether other options exist.

Thus arguments like "If [you are good], God will [Reward you with prosperity]" or "If [God exists], let Him [Strike me down for insulting Him]" or "If the Church [Doesn't support Traditionalists] it [supports Modernists]" are all guilty of the fallacy of bifurcation.  All of them ignore the potential of another option which would make the argument invalid.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shouldn't EVERY Day Be a Day of Reason?

Source: CNSNews.com - Atheist Group Calls on Obama to Endorse ‘National Day of Reason' Instead of 'National Day of Prayer'

You have to shake your head with the antics of certain so-called "New Atheists."  In calling for a "National Day of Reason," it is of course designed to be a slap in the face of religious believers by implying they are not reasonable.  Unfortunately they really ought to have thought this through.

As a believer, who was inspired by Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and the philosophers they found reasonable (Socrates and Aristotle) and by modern philosophers such as Peter Kreeft, I find that every day one has to use reason in considering the attacks of the faith.

Unfortunately, I think Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association does not come across as reasonable as he thinks he is.

He objects to a National Day of Prayer, saying:

With the religious right's influence in Congress, and with the threat to our Judiciary looming large, there has never been as important a moment in which to affirm our commitment to the Constitutional separation of religion and government, and to celebrate Reason as the guiding principle of our secular democracy.

During the past year we have witnessed the intrusion of religious ideology into all spheres of or government with such assaults on the wall separating church and state as:

  • Faith-based initiatives in federal agencies that give preferential treatment to religious organizations which proselytize and employ discriminatory hiring practices;
  • Restrictions on important scientific research on the basis of religious objections;
  • Attempts to introduce biblical creationism and its alter-ego "Intelligent Design" into our public school science curricula;
  • The appointment of judges who willingly place their religious beliefs above our laws;
  • Battles over the display of the Ten Commandments and other overtly religious icons in schools and on courthouses;
  • Religiously motivated restrictions on access to reproductive services and information

The irony is that he goes on to say (emphasis added):

What can you do to demonstrate your support for a Day of Reason?

Plan a special event to commemorate the NDR, such as a protest demonstration, special lecture, or social gathering;

  • Work to have a Day of Reason proclaimed by your state or local government;
  • Hold a press conference for your local media to promote respect for the separation of religion and government, and to draw attention to the many breaches of that principle during recent months;
  • Organize a letter-writing campaign urging your elected officials to support the separation of religion and government;
  • Visit the National Day of Reason web site to sign-up as an endorser, to view planned events, or to read some of the media coverage from previous years.

It seems to be unreasonable to object to special privileges to religion and imposing of values on one hand, while insisting on what is effectively the same thing.  If it is a breach to have the government declare a National Day of Prayer, it logically follows that to insist on a day which is effectively a rejection of religion is also a breach.

If Speckhardt wishes to argue that secularism and atheism is true, and that such a day reflects reality, then let him build a reasoned case and present it to be reviewed instead of engaging in a Bulverism by declaring that it is already established that religion is false.  Let him demonstrate as true that religion and reason are separate.  Without doing so, Speckhardt is Begging the Question, which is not logical… logic of course being a part of reason.

If government is not to endorse any sort of faith based view, then let us see the AHA demonstrate why we should consider their views to be based on Reason and not a sort of faith or ideology in itself.

We don't need A National Day of Reason… we need 365 (366 in Leap Years) Days of Reason, independent of whether it is personal or national or global.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Immoral God and Immoral Bible? (Article V): God and His Law

Preliminary Notes

[Profanity, Blasphemy and personal attacks will get the poster banned without warning.  If you wish to disagree with the article, please be civil and respectful in doing so.]

[This article, at 7630 words is far longer than I prefer, but I decided to wrap it up here lest someone think I was seeking to avoid the accusations of genocide and slavery by continually pushing them back. I don’t guarantee this article will answer all objections, but I do hope it will demonstrate that some accusations against Christians will be shown to be missing the point.]

Introduction

There is an article which circulates around the email pages which mocks Dr. Laura (though it had gone through a redraft as a letter to President Bush to attack Christians) and her call for Biblical values. Snopes, in a rather partisan and personal attack, describes it as: “Letter to Dr. Laura highlights fallacy in a particular anti-homosexual argument.” There are many fallacies… but from Snopes. There are Ad hominems about past indiscretions (what she did in the past has no bearing on whether what she says is true), the fallacy of equivocation over what is meant by the term “Biblical values”, and the straw man fallacy about what Dr. Laura was intending to say, false dilemma and so on. The author really ought to have been embarrassed to put her name on this.

So, what is the point of this mentioning of an e-mail spam and commentary? Ultimately, the error Snopes makes is similar to one which many fundamentalists and many atheists make about the Law in the Bible: That the Bible is to be interpreted in a literalistic sense in English and through modern standards by the reader without consideration of the original language or culture or theology. It concludes that just as people do not follow certain dietary laws today, they ought not to follow the moral law either.

The problem is: it makes no sense whatsoever to interpret personally by today’s standards a work which was written some three thousand years ago… this is interpreting out of context and this is what most of these attacks do. One needs to understand the purpose of the teaching and not merely pick out verses to make an appeal to emotion.

We Need to Understand the Christian View of the Torah.

Now I cannot speak for how the modern Jew interprets the Torah. In rejecting Jesus as Messiah, they obviously have a different view of the purpose of the Law than a Christian does. Therefore the reader who wants to know how the Jews today understand the commands in the Law would have to consult with the Jews to understand their perspective.

However, to accuse Christians of “pick-and-choose” hypocrisy without understanding what they understand about what the Law’s purpose was in relation to Christ is rather foolish indeed. We believe that Christ came as a fulfillment of the Law, and prior to his coming, God gradually prepared the nations for the acceptance of the message they could not have understood at the time of the revelations to Abraham.

Therefore, when Christians give a defense of their view of the Scripture, they are not “explaining away” the difficult verses. Rather, we are expressing our faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. We trust that, in the revelations of Christ, we know that God is not a merciless judge. Rather, He is a loving Father who seeks what is best for us, and deals with us according to our ability to know the truth.

Recapitulation Revisited

I mentioned in Article III, the idea of recapitulation indicates the Jewish Law was a preparation for the fullness of Christ. The person who condemns the Law generally does so by assuming that the Christian believer, if in power, would enact the Torah much as certain radical Muslims would prefer to enact the Sharia law. This betrays an ignorance of the Scriptures and the Christian understanding of them, and we should start with a look in Matthew 5:

17 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.

This verse has often been cited out of context to say Jesus has said Christians need to obey the Jewish Law to the letter. We then stand accused of hypocrisy and picking and choosing. However, such a claim demonstrates a misunderstanding of how Christians understand this teaching. A footnote for 5:17 in the New American Bible tells us:

To fulfill the law appears at first to mean a literal enforcement of the law in the least detail: until heaven and earth pass away nothing of the law will pass (Matthew 5:18). Yet the “passing away” of heaven and earth is not necessarily the end of the world understood, as in much apocalyptic literature, as the dissolution of the existing universe. The “turning of the ages” comes with the apocalyptic event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and those to whom this gospel is addressed are living in the new and final age, prophesied by Isaiah as the time of “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). Meanwhile, during Jesus’ ministry when the kingdom is already breaking in, his mission remains within the framework of the law, though with significant anticipation of the age to come, as the following antitheses (Matthew 5:21–48) show.

See how this Christian understanding is quite different from the view of the personal interpretation of a literalistic reading of the Scriptures without context? When Christ fulfills the Law, the reason for the Law will have been met, and the Law will pass away… not to licentiousness and self gratification, but to an even stronger demand for holiness which governs even the internal person and not just the outward observance of commands.

Elements of the Law which have been misunderstood become clear: not only is committing murder wrong, but also hating one’s brother is evil. A legalistic reading of the Law, which permits all sorts of injustice, will pass away in the face of Christ’s teaching and fulfillment of the Law.

Given that Christians understand all people are brethren in Christ, we are not to behave wickedly to anyone.

This is not a modern day attempt to explain away “inconvenient” Bible verses. St. John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) has said about fulfilling the Law in His Sermo XVI on Matthew:

And how, one may ask, did He not destroy it [The Law]? In what way did He rather fulfill either the law or the prophets? The prophets He fulfilled, inasmuch as He confirmed by His actions all that had been said concerning Him; wherefore also the evangelist used to say in each case, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet.” Both when He was born, and when the children sung that wondrous hymn to Him, and when He sat on the ass, and in very many more instances He worked this same fulfillment: all which things must have been unfulfilled, if He had not come.

But the law He fulfilled, not in one way only, but in a second and third also. In one way, by transgressing none of the precepts of the law. For that He did fulfill it all, hear what He saith to John, “For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” And to the Jews also He said, “Which of you convinceth me of sin.” And to His disciples again, “The prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in me.” And the prophet too from the first had said that “He did no sin.”

This then was one sense in which He fulfilled it. Another, that He did the same through us also; for this is the marvel, that He not only Himself fulfilled it, but He granted this to us likewise. Which thing Paul also declaring said, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” And he said also, that “He judged sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh.” And again, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! yea, we establish the law.” For since the law was laboring at this, to make man righteous, but had not power, He came and brought in the way of righteousness by faith, and so established that which the law desired: and what the law could not by letters, this He accomplished by faith. On this account He saith, “I am not come to destroy the law.”

But if any one will inquire accurately, he will find also another, a third sense, in which this hath been done. Of what sort is it then? In the sense of that future code of laws, which He was about to deliver to them.

For His sayings were no repeal of the former, but a drawing out, and filling up of them. Thus, “not to kill,” is not annulled by the saying, Be not angry, but rather is filled up and put in greater security: and so of all the others.

This point must be understood. Christians (unless they are unfaithful to Christ) do not pick and choose the parts of the Bible we want to follow. We follow the teachings of God as He intends them to be followed. Christ’s teaching is the lens through which Christians look at the Old Testament because He fulfills this Testament.

Revisiting the Understanding of the Brutal Times

I do not bring this up to claim “moral relativism.” However I believe that when God speaks to us, we need to remember this does not happen in a vacuum. He must speak to us through the cultural clutter which is in our society. This doesn’t mean that God’s message is relevant only for the time He speaks in of course, but if He speaks to a time 3000-4000 years in the past, we must be aware of the fact that people once accepted things we know to be wrong, and God had to gradually move us from this sinful understanding.

God speaks to us in history, not in the legendary past. He speaks to us in our fallen state, not in the state we were in before original sin. He speaks to people of all walks of life, not just philosophers and theologians. When God spoke to Abraham, we have a society which had been sinning against God for a long time indeed, and many of these sins had become institutions around the world. Brutal conquests with bitter aftermaths, practices of cruel depravity and so on, were widely practiced from Europe to Asia, and in the Americas. We fall into error if we forget this.

If a person thinks that the Ancient World, before the Jews and Christians appeared, was a time of peace and tolerance and justice, that person knows nothing about the history of the ancient world.

Some of these acts were so wicked (Sins which cry out to God for judgment) they could never be condoned at any time. The Catechism tells us of some of these:

1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143

Other sins were still wrong in the eyes of God, but because they were so ingrained into society and not as readily apparent as others, it would take many generations of placing restrictions before society could come to the understanding it was wrong. Some other acts could be right in certain contexts, but wrong in another.

Societies once commonly practiced all sorts of actions in war which would be considered war crimes today… yet none were seen as wrong practices then. Societies saw nothing wrong with pillage and rape against one’s enemies though this would be condemned if practiced against one’s own people.

We need to remember this is the world which God set out to save: The Bible did not order the taking of slaves or extermination on a whim. The Law, in fact, placed the first restrictions on this kind of behavior, with condemnations for behaving as the neighboring nations did.

With these points in mind, we can move on perhaps to look at some of the more troublesome laws in the Old Testament.

Issue I: A Look at Slavery

A Caveat

I am NOT writing to defend slavery here. Don’t get the impression that I am calling slavery good or justified. I am a part of a religious tradition which teaches all people are children of God and are to be treated as such. I do indeed find it tragic that past generations saw nothing wrong with the practice. However, I also believe that the proper understanding of the nature of slavery is needed to avoid making errors out of ignorance. To assume, for example, that all slavery was of the type the Pre-Civil War America used would be quite wrong and lead one to condemn all slaveholders for conditions which did not apply in all times in history and make a general assumption of all Christians on account of a few. A slave owning society should be judged for what they did and not for what another slave owning society did.

A General Look at Slavery

You may be a fundamentalist atheist if… You believe that when our forefathers are framing the Constitution, they're staunch deists, but when they're beating their slaves, they're Bible-believing Christians.

– From “You may Be a fundamentalist atheist if…”

Slavery is often viewed as a Jewish/Christian institution, where the worst and most dehumanizing aspects of the practice were assumed to have been instituted by Jews or Christians. This would be an error. Slavery existed before the Torah was pronounced by God, and even before God spoke to Abraham.

Slavery was actually an institution held in most of the ancient world. Before Abraham left Ur, slaves were a part of life. Laws about them appear in the Code of Hammurabi for example. The ancient Greeks and Romans and Babylonians and Egyptians all had rules concerning slaves. Some were slaves who were captives in wars. Some were slaves as a penalty for breaking the law. We don’t really see at this time however that any person who was from society X was viewed as a slave automatically. Certain societies may have been oppressed more because they were weaker, but we don’t really see the racial slavery prevalent in the American South.

Slavery differed in practice in different regions of the ancient world, and differed in how it was practiced in different times. For example, we should realize that by ancient standards, the modern practice of prison labor would be considered slavery, though we don’t often call it that today.

A failure to realize this point is to make a mistake about the slavery which was mentioned in the Bible.

Was Slavery a Judaeo-Christian Invention?

In America, slavery is a rather sensitive issue. We have a shameful legacy of racial slavery in this nation which considered the African-American to be less than fully human and good only to be enslaved. Often, we assume all slavery was of this type and forget that it was a type of slavery which only appeared in the west during the mid 15th century, which the Church denounced as soon as it began to be practiced again (beginning with Pope Eugenius IV in 1435).

One of the post hoc fallacies which condemn Christianity runs along the lines of “America was founded by Christians. Americans kept slaves. Therefore Christianity is to blame for slavery. This overlooks the fact that Christians can fail to carry out the Christian message. It also forgets that Christians were also the ones who opposed slavery. Some Christians invoked the Bible to justify their own actions yes. That doesn’t mean Christians accepted slavery. We need to remember that all too often, Christian teaching was subverted by culture in certain regions (which is to be condemned), and even today self proclaimed Catholics (such as Pelosi) promote policies condemned by the Church.

What Does the Bible Say About Slaves?

We see that the Torah had rules about keeping slaves. I have certainly seen some objections that: if God thought slavery was wrong, then why did He not forbid slavery?

I think we need to make a distinction here between the acts of most of the world, which had some pretty harsh rules about slaves, and the Torah of the Israelites which put some pretty strict restrictions on the keeping and treatment of slaves. As I mentioned earlier with recapitulation, it may be necessary to gradually change a society by putting on restrictions a little at a time. If slaves were enslaved because they were felons for example, what is the result of just letting them go? If slaves were totally dependent on their masters, what was the result of suddenly casting them loose? Given the Middle East at this time assumed slavery as a general part of life, the sudden abolition of slavery could have been extremely disruptive and work against the ultimate preparation of the salvation for Gentiles and Jews both.

With this in mind, we can look at what the Bible says about slaves. There were rules considering the Hebrew who, due to financial hardship, would enter into a temporary state of servitude. There were also rules considering the non-Hebrew slaves.

In Exodus 21, we see that among the Hebrews, slavery was a limited thing, and normally employed when a person sold himself for a time (though a sentence for a crime was also an option). They could be a slave for six years, but on the seventh (with the exception of one who voluntarily chose to remain in perpetual bondage), they must be set free. A slave could not be sold to a foreign people. Now if a slave married a wife prior to slavery, the wife and children went free with him. However, if the master gave the slave a wife, the wife remained a slave.

This seems harsh if we think other cultures were as "enlightened" as 21st Century America.  However, in comparison to societies around the Israelites, this was a radical restriction.

Slaves were not to be forced to work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), and could not be mistreated. Exodus 21:26-27 tells us that a slave who was struck and suffered a permanent injury was to be freed. This indicates a radical restriction compared to other cultures, in that the slave was not the mere property of the owner, but had some human rights.

One interesting contrast to other societies is that the treatment of runaway slaves.  For example, the Code of Hammurabi mandated the death penalty for the harboring of a fugitive slave, saying in #19:

If he hold the slaves in his house, and they are caught there, he shall be put to death.

In contrast, Deuteronomy 23 tells us:

15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you; 16 he shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place which he shall choose within one of your towns, where it pleases him best; you shall not oppress him.

So we do see a difference in how the slave was viewed.  This law shows us the recognition that sometimes the slave had a need to run away because of cruelty or saving one's life, and the Israelites were not to send a one back to his owner but was to permit him to live among them.

Compared to societies where the slave was under the complete domination of the master, the Israelite was forbidden to treat their slaves in an abusive way (a slave owner could be punished if he mistreated a slave so he died). 

Leviticus 25:44ff is probably the most uncomfortable section on slavery, because depending on how one interprets it, one might consider it a divine sanction for slavery. Now it is true that the chapter seems to make a distinction between Jews in slavery and slaves from other peoples, but the question is whether this is a command or a concession.

A command is where one is ordered to do something or not do something.  A concession is permission to do or not do a thing.  What we see is essentially the Torah did not forbid the keeping of slaves.  Rather it made commands regarded how a slave was treated in the already existing institution of slavery.

One thing we need to remember was that Israel was to be a holy nation, and those of the nations around Israel were pagans and practicing pagan customs which were condemned as evil. This helps distinguish the difference in treatment of the Israelite and the foreigner. From this sense, we can see the idea that slavery of foreign peoples was not done from xenophobia or racial hatred, especially as condemnations of mistreating slaves applied to all slaves.

If Israel was at war, and the people made peace, then enslavement was not allowed (though the nations would be subjugated and take part in certain works of labor). The taking of slaves in war seemed to be limited to conditions when battles were actually fought and peace did not come to be. So what we seem to have here is not a mandate to take slaves, but rather, we have a part of the rules for conflicts (Deuteronomy 20:10-20) and how captives were to be treated was a part of this rule.

Does the Lack of a Commandment against Slavery Mean Slavery was Good?

It does not logically follow that laws which put restrictions on slaves but did not abolish slavery means God approved of slavery. Ultimately, the complaint of atheists seems to be that God should have forbade slavery if He was really good.

The logical form seems to be:

1. If God is [Good], He would have [forbade slavery] (If [A] then [B])

2. He did not [forbid slavery] (Not [B])

3. Therefore God is not [good]. (Therefore Not [A])

It is logically valid in this form (though often the argument is often expressed in the logically invalid ways of Affirming the Consequent or Denying the Antecedent). There is a problem however with the assumption the argument makes. If God tolerates and limits an evil without forbidding it directly (with the intention of leading humanity to where they understand it is wrong), then we have a condition where one can be good and still not meet the conditions of the one presuming to judge God and His intentions.

This is the ultimate problem with the main premise. The lack of the motive prevents us from saying “God is not good because He did not do this.” For example, if I see one man shoot another man, am I right in condemning the shooter? I would be wrong if it turned out the shooter acted in self defense.

Now, this does not mean that slavery was ever good. There are certainly many things which were tolerated because of the hardness of hearts (see Matthew 19:7 and divorce for example). Certainly it would be better if people some 3000+ years ago were less violent in society, but they did not understand… indeed the whole purpose of Scripture is about God bringing man to salvation from his sins. This is not done by mere external observance, but in the heart. God had to gradually bring them to where they could understand. Christians, understanding recapitulation, are not guilty of “picking and choosing” or “defending slavery.” Rather they seek to understand the Scriptures in proper context.

So the accusation of God being evil, because He did not make the banning of slavery one of the Ten Commandments, is a charge which lacks the evidence and motive.  God is not acting in history to create a perfect human society. Rather He is acting to bring all people to salvation, converting their hearts to change the way they treat their fellow man.

Issue II: The Law and Genocide

genocide

■ n. the deliberate killing of a very large number of people from a particular ethnic group or nation.

– Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Does the God who commands "Thou shalt not kill" contradict Himself and order the mass slaughter of anyone else who disagrees?  Some of the challenges of certain atheists show that certain practices of 3000+ years ago shock us.  Now while some atheists may ask out of malice, others may indeed be sincere, being deeply troubled by what they cannot reconcile and seem to be in conflict.

I cannot promise I will succeed in answering (or even addressing) all the issues on this topic, I do believe the question to be valid and I hope to at least give a Christian answer to the question "How can you think this is a good God?"

Considering the Concerns of the Troubled Reader of Scripture

This is, perhaps, the most difficult and scandal causing accusation of course.  These are the sections of the Bible where God commands total war (called ērem or the ban) against some of the nations of the chosen land delivered to the Israelites.  This does shock the modern reader who can think of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist today and wonder if the God we believe in could command us at any time to exterminate our neighbors.

What Are The Assumptions?  Why They Should Be Recognized.

One of the problems in the assumptions which are held by certain people who condemn the Bible is that we tend to think of the societies of the pagan Middle East then as being cosmopolitan and liberal as America is today.  We then envision some group of religious zealots coming from out of nowhere killing Americans arbitrarily for nothing more than perhaps being a little "sexually liberated" and practicing different religions.  A lot of the "Religion is intolerant" charges come from this sort of thinking.

This view however seems to overlook the fact that these societies were not like cosmopolitan liberal America.  They practiced some rather barbaric things.  One of the most horrific is the example of human sacrifice, usually of children.  The Canaanites, the Carthaginians, the Phoenicians… they all tended to sacrifice infants. City states often raided for profit, slaves and the like.  The losers could expect that those not taken as slaves could be killed. It’s not a time I would want to have lived in.

With this in mind, we need to remember that what we have here is a culture which existed in these conditions and took part in these activities.  The judgment of God against these city-states is not something we Christians are lying in wait to carry out against our fellow Americans.  They were carried out against specifically named nations that practiced things which, if they were done today, would be on the front pages under banner headlines like MAN MURDERS CHILD IN BIZARRE RITUAL!

Looking at Commands of God

Unlike the topics in Article II, where we can say that men behaved evilly, Christians cannot use this defense here.  Since we hold God is perfect and good, and we believe the Bible does not err, we must explain how a good God could give orders which seem so horrific today.

I believe, when we look at the commands of God on this topic, we need to recognize two aspects:

  1. That God commanded the Israelites to act as His agents of judgment in limited circumstances (He didn't command this with every people, but only with certain cities which were condemned for wicked practices).
  2. In other circumstances, God commands, by giving limitations to the cultural conduct of the region, with the view of guiding the people away from the evils done.

Why are these aspects important?  Because it distinguishes the actions of Israel being the instrument of Divine Punishment from the actions which Israel undertook on their own that were restricted.

Understanding What Was Commanded

We need to recognize that this was not a call to exterminate all unbelievers, Allahu akhbar, in the Middle East. It was not a call to forcibly convert all people (Judaism does relatively little converting from the outside). Certainly forms of this wickedness could be found elsewhere (German tribes, Aztecs and the druids would later practice some human sacrifice for example, though we don’t seem to see the depravity that existed in these civilizations mentioned in the Bible). This was a command to cleanse the land God chose to make Holy from all the reprehensible practices within it.

The commands begin in Deuteronomy 7, where we see what God commands:

1 “When the LORD, your God, brings you into the land which you are to enter and occupy, and dislodges great nations before you—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites: seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—

2 and when the LORD, your God, delivers them up to you and you defeat them, you shall doom them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.

3 You shall not intermarry with them, neither giving your daughters to their sons nor taking their daughters for your sons.

4 For they would turn your sons from following me to serving other gods, and then the wrath of the LORD would flare up against you and quickly destroy you.

5 “But this is how you must deal with them: Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, chop down their sacred poles, and destroy their idols by fire.

6 For you are a people sacred to the LORD, your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own.

What is interesting in what is commanded is the word which is translated as “doom” or “destroy.”

The Concept of Ḥērem

The word used for doom or destroy (depending on the translation used) is in fact [הַחֲרֵ֣ם] (ērem, sometimes spelled charam), which has several meanings: ban, devote, exterminate, excommunicate. This may seem to be vastly contradictory, but that is because of the mindset of not understanding the concept behind the word.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary (hereafter referred to as the ABD) speaks of ērem as follows:

A special form of dedication is Heb ḥērem, “severe dedication; ban.” This is found mainly in contexts of war (Josh 6:17–21; 8:26; 10:1, 28, 35, 37, 39, 40; 11:11, 12, 20, 21; etc.) but may apply to one’s own property (cf. Lev 27:28, “field of one’s inheritance”; cf. v 21). Things placed under ḥērem include persons, their buildings, animals, precious objects and metals, and land. Objects, animals, and land so dedicated would be destroyed or become sanctuary property to be used by the priests (Num 18:14; Josh 6:19, 24; Ezek 44:29). Humans would be put to death (Lev 27:29). As with regular dedication, ḥērem can take the form of an unconditional declaration or a vow (Num 21:2–3).

—Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). ABD (3:244). New York: Doubleday.

Now I’m not bringing this up to play word games and claim that everyone was in error in thinking meaning ‘A’ when really meaning ‘B’ was meant. However, understanding what ērem means is important to understand what God commands. Consider Leviticus 27:

28 “Note, also, that any one of his possessions which a man vows as doomed to the LORD, whether it is a human being or an animal or a hereditary field, shall be neither sold nor ransomed; everything that is thus doomed becomes most sacred to the LORD.

“Doomed” is ērem and the sense is that what is ḥērem is not to be used for profane purposes

God has made the land of Israel and the people he brought out of Israel ērem which means it is sacred and consecrated to Him. Abominable practices are not to be found in the land He made holy and are not to be performed by the people He has made holy. Because of this, the practices which are abhorrent must be driven out of the land. This is not arbitrary. God acts against wickedness, starting in the Land which will be holy.

The ABD tells us:

Child sacrifice, which often is an accompaniment of idolatry, is a cause of pollution (Ezek 20:26, 31; 23:37–39; Ps 106:37–38). Deuteronomy places idolatrous implements under ḥērem (“extreme dedication”) status which means that as the Israelites conquer Canaan they are to destroy the implements (7:5, 25). One who misappropriates idolatrous materials falls under ḥērem status (Deut 7:25–26; cf. Josh 6:18; 7:12; 1 Kgs 20:42). One under this status is liable to death (Lev 27:29; Deut 13:13–19—Eng 13:12–18; Joshua 7). One who sacrifices to other gods also falls under ḥērem status (Exod 22:19).

—Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). ABD (6:734). New York: Doubleday.

It is not denied that these cities within the land God has made Holy to Him are to be destroyed for their abominable practices. The emphasis, of course is on “driving out.” We don’t see a command to destroy those who have fled for example (see Deuteronomy 9 below), but rather the purification of a region from the wicked practices which were limited to the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

ērem is concerned with things which are condemned to be destroyed because of their idolatrous opposition to God. If the land of Israel is to be made holy and if the abominations of the inhabitants are to be considered so foul that they must be purged… not looted, then it stands to reason that God could make use of the Israelites to punish these nations just as He made use of the Babylonians to later punish the Israelites.

Ḥērem is Limited

Notice, however that this sentence of ḥērem is not to be applied to all the inhabitants of all nations the Hebrews encounter. Rather they are to be done in a certain context. Under Recapitulation, we understand that God’s act of salvation for the world begins with the people and the land He has chosen. The nations driven out of Israel are driven out because of their wickedness, showing how sin is so contradictory to God and the way we are called to live

This is shown in Deuteronomy 9, we see God speaking of these nations that Israel is to “doom.”

3 Understand, then, today that it is the LORD, your God, who will cross over before you as a consuming fire; he it is who will reduce them to nothing and subdue them before you, so that you can drive them out and destroy them quickly, as the LORD promised you.

4 After the LORD, your God, has thrust them out of your way, do not say to yourselves, ‘It is because of my merits that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; for it is really because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.

5 No, it is not because of your merits or the integrity of your heart that you are going in to take possession of their land; but the LORD, your God, is driving these nations out before you on account of their wickedness and in order to keep the promise which he made on oath to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

6 Understand this, therefore: it is not because of your merits that the LORD, your God, is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

Notice the emphasis on “driving them out” from the lands they held. This is not a case of God saying “always and forever, kill people who are not Jews.” Instead, God is speaking of specific nations in the land He has made holy which were being punished by God. God did not arbitrarily decide to uproot people who were innocent and did no wrong for the benefit of the Hebrews. Rather, these people were to be driven out on account of their wickedness. If they had not practiced this wickedness, they would not have been driven out.

What wickedness? We see this in Deuteronomy 18:

9 “When you come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the peoples there.

10 Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner,

11 or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead.

12 Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, and because of such abominations the LORD, your God, is driving these nations out of your way.

Human sacrifice and some rather sickening practices of magicians of these places was why these peoples were not to be allowed to continue practicing their ways after being conquered. Moreover, we need to remember that the people who consulted these magicians took part in the abominations by making them necessary.

Indeed, when we get to Deuteronomy 20, where we see God giving the command with the nations who were to be exterminated, we can see a very interesting thing about Deuteronomy 20:16-18.

 16 But in the cities of those nations which the LORD, your God, is giving you as your heritage, you shall not leave a single soul alive.

17 You must doom them all-the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites-as the LORD, your God, has commanded you,

18 lest they teach you to make any such abominable offerings as they make to their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD, your God.

This is often interpreted to mean that the Israelites were ordered to slaughter such people wherever they were. This is not so. In those cities in the geographical boundaries of Israel, the culture which did these abominations mentioned in verse 18 (human sacrifice among others) were not to be left standing lest it corrupt the Israelites. However, some of these nations existed outside the boundaries of Israel and the people there were not hunted by the Israelites. For example, the Canaanites existed in Syria and Lebanon, the Hittites lived in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). The Amorites lived in Syria and Arabia. The Jebusites and were ethnically and culturally Hittite. These nations, we can see, existed partially in Israel and partially outside.

I believe I have shown that the actions against these nations were because:

  1. God had decreed this land sacred
  2. These nations practiced abominable things against the Natural Law to an extent that God decreed they were to be punished for their crimes.

Because the task was to clear out a purified land and not to destroy the inhabitants of these other cities of this group of people, the charge of genocide does not follow. The purpose of this was not to inflict harm on a group because of a racial or religious hatred, but to perform the judgment God commands.

Here is a dilemma. If God does not exist in the first place, then the charge cannot be that God is evil. If God exists however, and is Judge, one needs to demonstrate how God behaved unjustly in His actions before the charge of genocide can be directed against God.

Certain Objections at this Point

Usually around here, one comes across the objection “What about the innocent people? They didn’t do anything!” When it comes to the adults, the question can be raised with “What innocent people?”

If we go to Genesis 18:20-33 and look at God’s promise, we can see that God exacts punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah because their wickedness is so great that not even ten just men can be found.

If we consider Ezekiel 18, we see that God does not desire the destruction of the sinner but their salvation. In Genesis 15:16, we see an interesting passage which fits in to the concept of God knowing what the future inhabitants of Israel will do without sanctioning it:

16 In the fourth time-span the others shall come back here; the wickedness of the Amorites will not have reached its full measure until then.”

This doesn’t mean God leaves them to their wickedness and then arbitrarily destroys them. We understand this to mean that they have a period of time to repent, but instead they will not avail themselves of this.

From this, we can see the Amorites will grow in wickedness, but that God tolerates it but does not approve it. Haydock’s commentary says:

…during which period of time, God was pleased to bear with those wicked nations; whose iniquity chiefly consisted in idolatry, oppression of the poor and strangers, forbidden marriages of kindred, and abominable lusts. (Leviticus xviii; Deuteronomy vi. and xii.)

So in such a case we need to consider some things when interpreting Scripture. Christians believe God does not take pleasure in destroying the wicked, but wants the salvation of all. Yet if He does punish the wicked, it stands to reason that those He passes judgment on have received their judgment rightly. A claim which disagrees with this requires evidence to the contrary.

Finally there is the issue of the children. It does indeed seem harsh to us that even children were slain, unless we remember that we believe in eternal life and that God only punishes people with damnation for those sins they are responsible for, not for sins which could not be known by them. Bringing the innocent out of the world, away from a culture which will destroy their souls if God had not punished the city can be understood in this context.

Conclusion: The Unspoken and Unproven Assumptions behind Accusations of an “Evil God”

The person who makes the accusation of the immoral God here, accusing Him of maliciously ordering the infants to be destroyed makes some assumptions here. First, he or she assumes that the inhabitants under ērem were innocent (or at least the sins were “minor”) and that the God condemning them was a vicious and intolerant being. Second, the person assumes God was ordering the children punished. Third, the person assumes that the Christian holds to the assumptions the atheist assumes.

Ultimately the accusation of the “evil God” comes from the assumption that sins are unimportant things, and not to be worthy of punishment. Since God punishes sinners in the accounts of Scripture, the act is taken without consideration of motive.

I think I should close this article with a quote from Fr. Thomas Crean O.P.

God is infinite, uncreated goodness. Therefore He has the right to be loved and obeyed unconditionally. This is simply how things are. God can no more abolish His rational creatures’ duty of obedience and love towards Him than He can abolish the laws of mathematics. Sin is a refusal of God’s right to be loved and obeyed. It is a metaphysical monstrosity: a created will trying to raise itself above the Will that created it. God owes it to His own goodness and holiness not to ignore sin, for that would be to allow evil to subject Him to itself. He can forgive sin on condition of repentance, or He can punish it, but He cannot pretend that it is significant, any more than He can cease to be God.

God is No Delusion, page 124

Christians believe God only punished the guilty when necessary, but seeks the salvation of all when they will turn to Him. The Torah was the beginning of the preparation of a nation to be holy and dedicated to Him, but ultimately the fulfillment of what God intends is in the salvation brought to the whole world in Jesus Christ. Failing to understand this, and accusing Christians of “picking and choosing” is to fail to understand anything at all about Christianity.